Be a willing loser, be ‘fanaa’ about Life

In the Urdu language there’s a word called ‘fanaa’ which, I believe, means ‘annihilation’ or ‘to be annihilated’ in a Sufi context. In chaste Urdu it means to be ‘destroyed in love’, which is, to be ‘willing to be annihilated in (your) love for someone or something’. This morning I thought of this word. In the context of Life.

There will be times when Life will bring you to a point from where you will see no way forward. You will face an impregnable wall. Fear of, anger and hatred for, the situation will overtake any other sensible response you may still find brewing inside you. Yet, at such times, break free from anger, fear and hatred. Be willing instead to be destroyed by Life. Surrender yourself to the situation and let it take you to wherever you must logically__per Life’s design__end up. Just be ‘fanaa’ about the Life you have been given at that moment. And then watch the magic!

While we all understand detachment, having grown up hearing about, witnessing, learning from, Life, we seldom are able to bring it into play in our own Life situations. Because detachment cannot be practiced when you are still attached, when you are in possession. You may know what it means, but true understanding of what detachment really means or entails, you will get only when you lose something__whatever__that you are clinging on to in Life. So, when you are losing a Life battle __ losing someone you love to a misunderstanding, or death, or losing your money, your assets, your health __ be a willing loser. Be happy with the loss. Because while there may be a physical loss, often irreplaceable if it is a person, you are actually gaining an invaluable experience. You are learning a lesson in detachment through the loss. What is the worst that can happen when you are facing a grave situation in Life? You can die. Or you may lose some (a person or a thing) more?  Expunge your fear by recognizing that this Life was given to you without your asking for it. So, why cling on to your preferences or wants of how you want Life to treat you?

Actually, Life creates all of us to be free, to be in bliss. How many of us remember suffering when we were infants, before we turned 5, for example? Do you remember worrying, being anxious, angry, hurt, insulted or in grief? That freedom is our true state. That is the state we have been blessed with by creation. It is we, as we grow in Life, who create and invite problems into our lives. Soon, when the problems, become unsolvable, we blame Life. And as a result of such pointless, mindless blaming, we suffer!

There’s a story of Gautama, the Buddha, that I remember. One day the Buddha comes to his morning discourse carrying a handkerchief. It appears to be a costly one – perhaps some king has presented it to him. But everyone knows he does not accept such gifts, so everybody is looking, and thinking, what is the matter with the Buddha?

Gautama comes and sits, and keeping the handkerchief in his hand, says to his followers, ”Look very carefully.”

They all look. There is nothing to look at. It is just a beautiful silken handkerchief. And then the Buddha starts putting knots in the handkerchief – he puts five knots in it. There is a curious silence in the hall… everybody is simply watching what he is doing. Then the Buddha asks them, “Is this the same handkerchief, the same one that I had brought with me, or is it a different handkerchief?”

Sariputta, one of his chief disciples, stands up and says, “Why are you joking with us, O! Holy One? This is the same handkerchief” The Buddha says, “Sariputta, think again – because the handkerchief that I brought had no knots, and this one now has five knots. How can this be the same?”

Sariputta immediately sees the point. He says, “I am sorry. I do understand. Although it is the same handkerchief now it is in a very knotted condition – such as a man in anguish. He is the same man; a man in suffering is the same man that was born but now, one who is in knots.”

The Buddha replies, “Exactly. That’s what I want to show to you: that the man who is suffering is not different from Gautama, the Buddha. I am just a handkerchief without knots. You are a handkerchief with five knots.”

Of course the Buddha’s philosophy is of five basic problems that trouble man: violence, greed, untruthfulness, unawareness, and the ego. Each of us end up adding our own knots to these basic five – we may add fear, jealousy, anger, guilt, suffering, sorrow and several such. When our problems, the ones we have created, land us in a knotty mess, it is not a time to think of an end-game. You may be losing something material, but don’t think of losing the game of Life. Awaken instead to a higher level of consciousness through the experience. You may have been growing in Life so far, but by being a willing loser, you can actually grow up! When you hit a dead end, you can actually wake up from that impact. Think of the Buddha’s handkerchief in such times. And instead of hating that moment, be willing to be destroyed by Life. Be ‘fanaa’ about Life. And then watch the magic. You will actually become free. Because when you realize that you are responsible for your knots, for your problems, and are willing to live__and die__with the Life that’s coming at you, to you, you will really start living!

Learning to live when you hate Life

We all know that not all our wants are ever going to be met. So, even though, often times, we do plunge into despair and grief over unmet expectations, we have the ability to overcome, repair and revive ourselves.

But what do you do when your basic needs are not met? What do you do when you are not loved? When you are not understood? What do you do when you don’t know where your next rupee or dollar in income is going to come from? What do you do when it is a special day in your Life, your child’s birthday, and you can’t even afford a new dress for her? What do you do when the only person you can relate to in the world has been taken away by Life, in a ghastly, unexpected accident? What do you do when you know you are dying of cancer and there’s so much pain that it feels like your whole body is on fire __ and yet death seems so elusive?

What do you do when you must live though you wish you could actually die?

Contrary to what you want to do is, often, what you have to do. And to do that, to live when you would much rather die, you must look your situation in the eye, and despite all your grief, choose to live, LIVE, in that tormenting, torturous moment. That’s when you will find that despite all the pain, you feel no suffering. When you have learned to overcome suffering, you have learned the way to joy, you have learned to live!

Yesterday, a close friend called. He is going through a painful phase in his Life where his brother and he are separating as business partners. The separation has turned messy. My friend says he has tried to be completely giving and has agreed to all terms and conditions stipulated by his brother, however outrageous they have been. The idea was to ensure a peaceful, amicable partitioning of the business. Even so, said my friend, his brother was taunting him and provoking him. My friend did not want to blow up and confound an already vitiated situation. So, he called me asking for advice on what I thought he could possibly be doing.

I was reminded, even as my friend spoke, of a similar situation I encountered some years back. My entire family had concluded that (my wife and) I had cheated them in a transaction involving family property and some substantial cash borrowings. In fact, they still do. Just hearing them say what they did, and reading some ghastly text messages from my siblings, was both humiliating and traumatic. I must have died a thousand deaths in the days and weeks following that episode. Then, call it a revelation, call it enlightenment, I suddenly reasoned that I sought my family’s understanding because I needed it badly. It dawned on me that to understand me (and my wife) did not appear to be on my family’s agenda. Instead misunderstanding every word and action of ours appeared to be on their agenda. So, what was the point in demanding understanding when it was not likely to be given? I looked at the scenario dispassionately and came to the following conclusions:

1.  What was the basis of the misunderstanding? – My family believed that my wife and I were faking our bankruptcy and so were feigning an inability to settle money borrowed from the family

2.   Where was my grief, my suffering coming from? – That I, a son of my family, was being misunderstood, was not being trusted. My ego demanded trust. Whereas the situation completely lacked it because my family simply did not give it or me any trust!

3.  What was the way to end my suffering? – Settle my family’s money for which I didn’t have any means then (or even now) or let go of my need, my craving, for understanding. I chose the latter.

4.   Despite what I felt or experienced, I realized my family had a right to its views and opinions. They didn’t fulfill my need, but surely they believed their reasoning to be sound and so backed their behavior!

I shared this learning with my friend yesterday. I told him to give up his need for his brother to understand him. I told him that at the root of all our suffering is a cause. The cause often has little to do with what may have led to a situation. Instead it has everything to do with our need for the situation to be different. So, let me clarify, it is not even about a want. It is about a need, a more basic, often elementary, non-negotiable, human requirement. For instance, a son, a child will need a family’s understanding and not merely want it. A brother will need his sibling’s understanding and not merely want it. A companion will need her partner’s love and not just want it. A cancer patient will need a cure or death and not simply want either of them! If money be a common denominator for a standard of survival in the world, a basic income is then a need for the qualified, skilled and experienced, and not just a want.

Yet, as is with my story, or my friend’s, or even your own, Life, sometimes, will put you in a place where even a basic need is not fulfilled. You will initially hate such a Life. Because unhappiness__when wants are not met__can perhaps still be endured. But insecurity__when needs are not provided for__suffocates. And yet you have to live! That’s a difficult place to be in. This is when you must learn to live fully with what is__without grief or angst or rancor or suffering. When you do that, your own definition of what is it that you need will undergo a tectonic shift. Then, you will realize that Life is so benevolent. Because all that you really, badly, immediately, need to live is always available, in abundance, to you! Then some of your needs become wants and you reconcile to them not being met. Such an awakening and reconciliation delivers inner peace unto you. You then learn to surrender completely to the moments that make up your Life and you live, fully, freely, peacefully, joyously, in them!